Inter stretched their lead at the top of the Serie A table to nine points, for a day at least, after a crucial 2-1 victory at Siena on Saturday.
Brazilian full-back Maicon was the hero with both goals, either side of an equalizer from Moroccan Houssine Kharja, as the reigning three-time champions won for the eighth league match in a row. Inter have not dropped points since October and will take a lead of between six and nine points into the three-week winter break, depending on how Juventus fared late yesterday in Atalanta.
Mourinho was so happy with the winning goal that he was the first to reach Maicon to celebrate, even though the full-back was behind one end. But the Portuguese admitted his side had been lucky to win.
“I have to say we didn’t deserve to win this match and not because Maicon’s second goal was clearly offside, that’s part of the game, but because of the way Siena played,” Mourinho said. “They played really well with a lot of pressing and intensity which gave us a lot of problems. But to win the title you also have to win some matches like this.”
“Why am I so happy? Because it seemed to me as if Siena were the more likely to win it and that we’d go home with a maximum of one point,” he said.
The first period was a tame affair with little happening until Maicon gave the visitors the lead on 34 minutes. Before that, only Zlatan Ibrahimovic had struck at goal in anger, but his free-kick skidded well wide.
But soon after the half-hour mark Siena’s defenders were punished for ball-watching at a corner. Mario Balotelli sent over a pea-roller of a cross and Maicon somehow managed to steal in and poke the ball home from inside the six-yard box, despite being surrounded by a posse of Siena defenders.
However, Siena didn’t let their heads drop and equalized a minute before the break as Cristiano Del Grosso crossed from the left and Kharja threw himself full length in front of Maxwell to nod home from close range.
Inter, unsurprisingly, came out after the break with more purpose and Ghana midfielder Sulley Muntari curled an effort just wide of the upright. On 58 minutes, Ibrahimovic came close to giving Inter the lead as he crashed a shot against the cross-bar. Siena were dangerous too, though, and substitute Massimo Maccarone should have done better with his close-range header than send it high over the bar.
The hosts were made to pay for that miss as Maicon grabbed the winner seven minutes from time. Center-back Ivan Cordoba tried his luck from distance, but his shot took a deflection and landed at the feet of Maxwell, who released his Brazilian compatriot with a clever flick, leaving Maicon to apply a chipped finish over Gianluca Curci, despite a strong hint of offside.
Still Siena could have come away with something, but poor finishing cost them again as Abdulkader Ghezzal skied his left-foot shot from close range.
In the day’s other game, Lazio won for the first time since Nov. 9 in a 1-0 success over Palermo to move up to sixth.
The early season leaders had gone five matches without a win, but overcame their Sicilian opponents thanks to a strike from club captain Tommaso Rocchi, who nipped in front of his marker to clip home Frenchman Mourad Meghni’s near post cross. Lazio coach Delio Rossi said overall he was delighted with his team’s efforts up to Christmas.